I first heard the gospel in a con­text, man­ner, and form I could under­stand from a for­mer tug­boat cap­tain named Hal Lind­sey. Every Wednes­day night, stu­dents from UCLA gath­ered at the Light and Pow­er House, a for­mer col­lege fra­ter­ni­ty house on the fringes of the cam­pus, to hear Hal teach the Bible. Some stu­dents came from evan­gel­i­cal back­grounds. Many more were from nom­i­nal Chris­t­ian or sec­u­lar homes. Hal, often dressed in a tank top, blue jeans, and leather boots, walked us through the Bible. I recall, almost wist­ful­ly, the sense of excite­ment, inten­si­ty, and urgency we felt as Hal linked the Scrip­ture to our world, our dilem­mas, our ques­tions. He pos­sessed a gift for link­ing the sim­plic­i­ty of the gospel to our long­ing for truth and our inter­est in dis­cern­ing how Christ’s work and words were con­nect­ed to life in the wacky world of the six­ties and ear­ly sev­en­ties. And, of course, Hal’s inter­est in bib­li­cal prophe­cy fed into the wider apoc­a­lyp­tic fer­vor of the youth cul­ture and Amer­i­can cul­ture at large.[1]

I didn’t always under­stand every­thing that Hal was say­ing. One thing I did under­stand, though. Jesus had died for my sins, had been raised from the dead, would some­day return, and expect­ed me to do some­thing with my life. I was ful­ly pre­pared to walk through a wide gate into the halls of the Uni­ver­si­ty of San Diego Law School, and Christ has some­thing dif­fer­ent in store for me, a more nar­row, demand­ing gate. 

Let me be very clear; for oth­ers with a dif­fer­ent voca­tion the nar­row, demand­ing gate would have been law school. I think, for instance, of Bryan Steven­son and all he has done on behalf of the poor, the wrong­ly incar­cer­at­ed, and those held in the hell­ish envi­ron­ment of death row. Gary Hau­gen of the Inter­na­tion­al Jus­tice Mis­sion also comes to mind. For me, though, the nar­row gate was a no” to law school and a yes” to three years of unac­cred­it­ed study at the Light and Pow­er House. 

I still recall the con­ver­sa­tion dur­ing which I informed an admis­sions offi­cial at the Uni­ver­si­ty of San Diego that I wouldn’t be com­ing there to study law. Oh,” he respond­ed. And what will you be doing?” I hes­i­tat­ed in respond­ing. I hadn’t expect­ed such a direct ques­tion. And who had ever heard of the Light and Pow­er House? There had to be a respectable, hon­or­able way out of this con­ver­sa­tion. I’ve decid­ed to study the­ol­o­gy.” There. I had respond­ed truth­ful­ly. In fact, there was a cer­tain lofti­ness to my future voca­tion; the­ol­o­gy was a field in which peo­ple thought great thoughts, for heaven’s sake. Or at least that was my bud­ding impres­sion. And where will you be study­ing,” he asked. What was I to do? What was I to say? Final­ly, I blurt­ed out, I’ll be study­ing at the Light and Pow­er House up here in LA.” Oh.” There was a long, silent pause. I could sense dis­dain rip­pling through the phone line. I’m sure you’ll do well.” Click. 

Wide gate. Broad road. Small gate. Nar­row road. Each pos­sess­es its own demands and delights, its clar­i­ties and con­fu­sions, its com­forts and pains. 

I often think of Bonhoeffer’s last day on earth, April 8, 1945. I imag­ine myself as an unseen observ­er at Bonhoeffer’s last way sta­tion, the con­cen­tra­tion camp at Flossen­burg, Ger­many. A gal­lows stands in the dis­tance, stark, lone­ly, for­bid­ding. Since ear­ly morn­ing this wood­en, wicked trel­lis has been creak­ing as one body, one life after anoth­er falls, bounces, and swings. Hitler and Himm­ler are enjoy­ing one final field day, one long, last spite­ful chuck­le. Then I spot him; there is Bon­ho­ef­fer, naked as a baby boy, climb­ing the stairs of the hangman’s tree, ready to fly home. Bon­ho­ef­fer turns. He looks right at me. Remem­ber, Chris, the call to dis­ci­ple­ship is the call to change.” He smiles. Fly away home, boy. Fly away. 

Oh Lord, you can be so demand­ing. You don’t let up. You ask so much of us, your image-bear­ers. And yet you give so much in return, all our hearts can hold and then more. Why are we so afraid to fol­low, so afraid to trust? I pon­der your invi­ta­tions. I want to give all I own to fol­low you. I want to eat at your mes­sian­ic ban­quet. I want to enter through your small gate and walk your nar­row road – at least some of the time. But I don’t know how. I get con­fused. Help me, Lord. I’m apt to hun­ker down. Left to myself, I’m apt to hide. I get scared. Call me out of myself. Teach me how to be your dis­ci­ple, your appren­tice. I need your help so bad­ly. Left to myself, I’m out of hope, out of gas, expend­ed. Grace, Lord. Pour it out. My mouth is wide open. And, then, Lord, drink me up.” 

[1] I am here draw­ing on mate­r­i­al from my arti­cle, What Hal Lind­sey Taught Me About the Sec­ond Com­ing,” Chris­tian­i­ty Today, Octo­ber 25, 1999, Vol. 43, No. 12.

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

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